Emails to former Police Commissioner Batts show praise, criticism

From West Baltimore to Texas to Calgary, a barrage of emails came to then-Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts' inbox during the unrest that followed Freddie Gray's death.

"In what other city does the police chief stand 100 yards from the riot line and command the response instead of hiding behind public relations and a desk? Only in baltimore," one man wrote Batts late on April 27.

But a woman from Calgary, Alberta, said she didn't like what she was seeing.

"Your press conference did more to confirm what the protesters have been saying about the attitude of the police toward civilians," she wrote. "Until city official and administrators lead by example, nothing will change."

"Good job Anthony," another read. "You'll never see me in Baltimore again."

The emails, obtained by The Baltimore Sun in a public information request, were among dozens of messages Batts was receiving as the spotlight on the city intensified. Batts didn't shield himself from such feedback — the emails show he had set up Google news alerts for his own name, the Baltimore Police Department, and City of Baltimore to receive notifications when news stories were posted.

He also received regular emails from a service called TVEyes that aggregates broadcast television clips on a particular topic.

Later, after the city had quieted, hundreds of form emails were sent to Batts demanding an end to the curfew.

Amnesty International sent Batts multiple letters with its concerns about Gray's death, as well as its decision to send in legal observers.

When Reuters complained that a photographer working for the news organization had been detained, Batts responded by saying that an officer had probable cause to make the arrest. But he said he had personally made a decision to dismiss the criminal citation the photographer received.

Many journalists appealled to Batts directly for interviews and information. Rick Boone of WTTG in Washington, D.C., wrote, "First let me say I'm a POLICE fan!" He said he wanted to put together a "positive" story on the agency, adding, "My story WILL NOT discuss Freddie Gray or the officers named in the investigation."

Batts — who would be fired in early July — got another supportive email from a California police officer, who said he was sending prayers.

"It seems that when you become the chief of any organization, the Lord tests you with major incidents," he wrote. "Remember he never gives you more than you can handle. That being said, the Lord must think you are a bad ass dude."

Paul A. Tiburzi, a managing partner at the law firm DLA Piper, wrote to Batts on April 30 offering thanks for his "heroic efforts .. under very trying and challenging circumstances."

"I know I speak for all the members of our Business Leadership Advisory Council to tell you that we stand with you and behind you — and with the BPD," Tiburzi wrote. "If you need business leaders to stand with the Commissioner in any forum, we will be there."

In the neighborhoods, some wrote to say they were struggling to keep things together. Juan Nunez, president of the Highlandtown Business Association, said his area had seen a reduced police presence and a longer 911 response time.

"Our community has tried to paint a positive spin on the situation by encouraging businesses to remain open and residents to patronize their local merchants and resume activity in their neighborhood," Nunez wrote. But a murder at a South Highland Avenue convenience store called for "an immediate increased and visible police presence."

A California resident wrote to say he had followed Batts' career since his days in Long Beach. "Do not leave, and stay and do the job you were hired to do," he wrote.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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